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Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
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by Robert Flaxman

"A cute kids' film with some genuine emotion."
4 stars

Critics know that reviewing films aimed at children is a difficult task. No matter how annoying I might find juvenile humor, how do I criticize it in a film aimed squarely at a juvenile audience? The real test, then, is whether or not I would want my kids - if and when I actually have some - to see this film. The answer is: yes, I would.

Inspired by a Sheila Burnford book which itself was based on a true story, Homeward Bound tells the story of a cat and two dogs owned by a newly-married couple and their three children from previous marriages. When the family has to move for a while because of the husband's job, the pets are dropped off to stay with a family friend who owns a ranch. The animals get worried when their owners don't return and, led by Shadow (voice of Don Ameche), they begin a long and perilous trek back to their home in northern California.

Had it been made five years later, Homeward Bound would almost undoubtedly feature animals whose lips moved when they talked. It doesn't, though, and the film is better for it - it draws a distinction between the communication between the animals and that between the human characters. The film's entire premise rests on the pets' failure to understand how long they are being left or why - fully talking animals would take away much of the believabililty of their confusion.

Of course, that analyzes the film in a way that most children probably wouldn't. Will kids like the film? I did as a pre-teen, and it's hard to imagine any child of that age or younger turning down a film with talking animals, especially ones that might resemble their own pets. Michael J. Fox, as the voice of the bulldog Chance, and Sally Field, as the voice of the cat Sassy, provide a good deal of bantering comic relief. Most of it will probably prove ultimately tiresome to adults, but kids should eat it up.

There are some potentially scary scenes for younger kids, such as when Sassy falls into a river and is washed over a waterfall, or when Shadow and Chance are chased by a mountain lion. Unsurprisingly, the pets survive both situations, and they're only a G-rated level of scariness, so I wouldn't be too worried.

Homeward Bound, like most kids' movies, has a message, and it's certainly not shy about explaining it. The film's point revolves around the meaning of family, and the many different ways it can exist. The three pets constitute one sort of family on their own, banding together to survive a difficult journey. Then there is the coming together of two fragmented human families to form one happy unit. Finally, there is the story of Chance, who delivers some narration in the film. Rescued from the pound, Chance still considers himself a loner who doesn't need human companionship. Shadow becomes a mentor on their journey, and he teaches Chance about the special relationship between dogs and humans. By the end of the film, Chance is a believer.

It's all a bit corny from an adult perspective, and different parts of the plot aren't always as well-developed as maybe they could be. But that's not really the point, is it? Kids may or may not notice the message among the funny talking animals, but at least it's a positive one if they bother to pay attention. The film's ending is exactly what you'd expect, but it pulls off its emotional punch surprisingly well. The effect is aided by Bruce Broughton's wonderful score, which hits its apex in its use of a lone horn to perfection as our hope for the pets' safe return is fulfilled.

I always loved Homeward Bound growing up. As an adult, I find that it loses some of its cachet, but its well-crafted ending still has the power to draw out a few tears of joy. If you're looking for children's entertainment, Homeward Bound has something for everyone. It's a good way to go.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2286&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/11/04 20:00:18
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User Comments

8/21/15 Robert Barnes An absolute masterpiece of a film! The soundtrack is one of the greatest film scores ever! 5 stars
10/24/13 Lipika.M.H V.Good 3 stars
4/14/13 Laura This film came out when I was 6, and I still love it to this day :) 5 stars
7/03/09 WoW!!! It was the most saddest movie ever except i loved it!!! 4 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. one of the most adorable and sweet family films out there :] 4 stars
3/01/08 Pamela White Sooo cute, great family movie 5 stars
8/17/06 David Cohen A heartwarming movie, and normally I hate heartwarming movies 4 stars
4/26/06 ashley it was a good movie for kids 4 stars
12/11/05 gray good film no joke 4 stars
10/18/05 Valerie great for animal lovers. entertaining. 4 stars
4/23/05 Dan Good movie. Still brings a tear to my eye after all these years... 4 stars
12/12/04 julia pronko its great 5 stars
10/17/04 john prats its true it is incredible story because of the friendship of the three animals thas why i t 5 stars
10/06/04 Valerie Great if you like animals! 4 stars
6/03/04 Grsy good stuff for the whole family no joke 4 stars
4/15/03 JL Ver cute little movie, most kids would love it. 5 stars
12/25/02 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Nice little movie. 4 stars
6/14/02 Cat Favourite childhood film still enjoyable for family audiences 4 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat What magoo said. 5 stars
6/09/01 Turtle A warm, funny (make that hilarious) family film that is brightened up even more by MJ Fox! 4 stars
4/13/01 Andrew Carden I thought that because Hayes was in it , it would be good. I was wrong. 2 stars
3/02/01 lisa i'm 16 and it still makes me cry! 4 stars
11/19/00 The EVIL Penguin can animals talk? 2 stars
9/27/00 magoo inspiring 5 stars
7/23/00 Jed I agree with TMC's rating although I am unsure of the rating. 4 stars
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